Nina Totenberg

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.

Totenberg's coverage of the Supreme Court and legal affairs has won her widespread recognition. Newsweek says, "The mainstays [of NPR] are Morning Edition and All Things Considered. But the creme de la creme is Nina Totenberg." She is also a regular panelist on Inside Washington, a weekly syndicated public affairs television program produced in the nation's capital.

In 1991, her ground-breaking report about University of Oklahoma Law Professor Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment by Judge Clarence Thomas led the Senate Judiciary Committee to re-open Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearings to consider Hill's charges. NPR received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for its gavel-to-gavel coverage — anchored by Totenberg — of both the original hearings and the inquiry into Anita Hill's allegations, and for Totenberg's reports and exclusive interview with Hill.

That same coverage earned Totenberg additional awards, among them: the Long Island University George Polk Award for excellence in journalism; the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for investigative reporting; the Carr Van Anda Award from the Scripps School of Journalism; and the prestigious Joan S. Barone Award for excellence in Washington-based national affairs/public policy reporting, which also acknowledged her coverage of Justice Thurgood Marshall's retirement.

Totenberg was named Broadcaster of the Year and honored with the 1998 Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcasting from the National Press Foundation. She is the first radio journalist to receive the award. She is also the recipient of the American Judicature Society's first-ever award honoring a career body of work in the field of journalism and the law. In 1988, Totenberg won the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton for her coverage of Supreme Court nominations. The jurors of the award stated, "Ms. Totenberg broke the story of Judge (Douglas) Ginsburg's use of marijuana, raising issues of changing social values and credibility with careful perspective under deadline pressure."

Totenberg has been honored seven times by the American Bar Association for continued excellence in legal reporting and has received a number of honorary degrees. On a lighter note, in 1992 and 1988 Esquire magazine named her one of the "Women We Love".

A frequent contributor to major newspapers and periodicals, she has published articles in The New York Times Magazine, The Harvard Law Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Parade Magazine, New York Magazine, and others.

Before joining NPR in 1975, Totenberg served as Washington editor of New Times Magazine, and before that she was the legal affairs correspondent for the National Observer.

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5:56pm

Thu November 21, 2013
It's All Politics

Filibuster Changes Could Be Most Apparent In Federal Courts

Originally published on Thu November 21, 2013 5:57 pm

On June 4, President Obama announces the nominations (from left) of Robert Wilkins, Cornelia Pillard and Patricia Ann Millet to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In the past three weeks, Senate Republicans have blocked confirmation votes on all three.
Manuel Balce Ceneta AP

President Obama and all future presidents have a freer hand today to make both executive and judicial appointments.

The Senate's historic vote on Tuesday eliminates a rule that until modern times had been used infrequently, and not always fairly. That unfairness, said Democrats, increased to an intolerable level during the Obama administration. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., observed, since the Senate created the filibuster rule in 1917, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominees — and half of them have taken place during the Obama years.

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2:01am

Wed November 6, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Case Puts Public Prayer Back In The Spotlight

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 9:00 am

The Supreme Court invokes "God" before every public session. Now the justices will weigh whether it is different, as a legal matter, for government meetings to include more explicitly sectarian prayers.
Evan Vucci AP

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case questioning the use of prayer at government meetings. But first, the marshal will ask "God" to "save the United States and this honorable court."

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5:30pm

Tue November 5, 2013
Law

Love Triangle Case Puts Chemical Weapons Treaty To The Test

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 5:43 pm

At the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, the subject for debate was the reach of the Constitution's treaty power. But the justices' questions covered subjects from sarin gas to Halloween trick-or-treating. And the facts of the case sounded more like a soap opera.

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1:57am

Tue November 5, 2013
Law

A Toxic Love Triangle Heads To The Supreme Court

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 11:01 am

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case that challenges the court's most famous treaty decision, written in 1920 by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday hears about a love triangle, complete with attempted poisonings and 24-hour surveillance by postal inspectors. Although it sounds like an episode of Law & Order (with a dash of Days of Our Lives), the case has global implications.

In 2005, Carol Anne Bond was a 34-year-old Philadelphia suburbanite living with her husband of 14 years. But when she found out that her best friend was pregnant and that her own husband was the father, she became enraged and began threatening her friend, by phone and in writing.

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5:03am

Wed October 16, 2013
The Two-Way

Justices To Hear Cases On Self-Incrimination, Freezing Assets

Originally published on Wed October 16, 2013 8:14 am

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases on Wednesday: Kansas v. Cheever and Kaley v. United States.
Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases on Wednesday — one that focuses on the right against self-incrimination and another that looks at when prosecutors can seize defendants' assets.

What Counts As Self-Incrimination?

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1:48am

Tue October 15, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Returns To Affirmative Action In Michigan Case

Originally published on Mon October 28, 2013 9:12 am

People wait in line for the beginning of the Supreme Court's new term on Oct. 7.
Evan Vucci AP

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of affirmative action again Tuesday, but this time the question is not whether race may be considered as a factor in college admissions. Instead, this case tests whether voters can ban affirmative action programs through a referendum.

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2:02am

Tue October 8, 2013
Politics

Supreme Court Hears Another Challenge To Campaign Finance Law

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 12:17 pm

Shaun McCutcheon is challenging the aggregate limits on contributions to political candidates and parties.
Susan Walsh AP

The U.S. Supreme Court returns to the campaign finance fray on Tuesday, hearing arguments in a case that could undercut most of the remaining rules that limit big money in politics.

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2:06am

Mon October 7, 2013
Law

Despite Shutdown, Supreme Court Opens Its Doors For New Term

Originally published on Mon October 7, 2013 10:09 am

The Supreme Court opens its new term this week.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

When the rest of the government shuts down for a blizzard, the U.S. Supreme Court soldiers on. And so it is that this week, with the rest of the government shut down in a political deep freeze, the high court, being deemed essential, is open for business.

It is, after all, not just any week for the justices. It is the opening of a new term.

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4:26pm

Tue July 30, 2013
Law

Citing Supreme Court, Judge Awards Benefits To Same-Sex Widow

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 4:35 pm

Another barrier to recognition of same-sex marriage appears to have fallen. On Monday a federal judge ordered a law firm to pay survivor's benefits to the widow in a same-sex marriage, and on Tuesday the law firm said it was happy to comply and would not appeal.

The decision is the latest in a series of court rulings equalizing benefits for legally married same-sex couples in the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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4:30pm

Wed July 24, 2013
Law

S.C. Court Orders 'Baby Veronica' Adoption Finalized

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 5:51 pm

The South Carolina Supreme Court has ordered finalization of the adoption of "Baby Veronica" by a couple living near Charleston, S.C.
Melanie Capobianco AP

Lawyers for the biological father of a Native American child are expected to make a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, hoping to prevent the return of the child to her adoptive parents.

But the four-year legal saga is likely near an end.

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3:21pm

Wed July 10, 2013
Law

Scalia V. Ginsburg: Supreme Court Sparring, Put To Music

Originally published on Thu July 11, 2013 11:39 am

iStockphoto.com

On the day after the Supreme Court concluded its epic term in June, two of the supreme judicial antagonists, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, met over a mutual love: opera.

When it comes to constitutional interpretation, the conservative Scalia and the liberal Ginsburg are leaders of the court's two opposing wings. To make matters yet more interesting, the two have been friends for decades, since long before Scalia was named to the court by President Reagan and Ginsburg by President Clinton.

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12:53pm

Mon July 8, 2013
The Two-Way

A 'Mea Culpa'

Nina Totenberg
Steve Barrett NPR

I have always believed in correcting mistakes, especially bad ones. In my wrap-up piece at the end of the Supreme Court term, I quoted Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis as one of several conservative scholars highly critical of the court's decision on the Voting Rights Act.

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2:35am

Fri July 5, 2013
Law

Whose Term Was It? A Look Back At The Supreme Court

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 12:03 pm

Chief Justice John G. Roberts (left) and Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP

It would not be an exaggeration to call the recently completed Supreme Court term a lollapalooza. Day-by-day on the last week of the court term, the justices handed down one legal thunderbolt after another: same-sex marriage, voting rights, affirmative action. The end-of-term crush of opinions made so many headlines that other important decisions got little public notice.

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11:08pm

Fri June 28, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

Judge Who Struck Down Proposition 8 Knew Case Would Go Far

Originally published on Sat June 29, 2013 8:25 pm

Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California's proposition banning gay marriage in 2010. The Supreme Court kept that ruling intact on Wednesday.
Elaine Thompson AP

When the Supreme Court issued its decision clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, former District Judge Vaughn Walker had worked up a sweat.

"I was at the gym on the treadmill, and the television was on. So I was working up a sweat for reasons other than Proposition 8," says Walker, who now has a private practice.

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3:04am

Thu June 27, 2013
Law

Justices Rule On 2 Gay Marriage-Related Cases

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 4:06 am

In one case, a divided court struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, enabling same-sex couples in states that allow gay marriage to qualify for federal benefits. The court also ruled that plaintiffs in a gay marriage case from California lacked standing — it carved the way for gay marriages to resume in California.

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